As the international community attempts to piece together the facts surrounding the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane over disputed Ukrainian territory, the plane’s black boxes–pivotal to the investigation–appear to have been found. Whether Russian separatists will hand the boxes over to investigators, however, remains to be seen.
Reports varied as to the whereabouts of the black boxes yesterday, or whether they had even been found. Andrei Purghin, who claims the title of Deputy Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, announced that “an objective investigation” would be done as soon as the boxes were found, and shortly after, pro-Russian forces announced that one of the boxes was, indeed, in their possession.
By Friday, the separatist gangs have declared that they had numerous devices in tow. According to NBC, an assistant to insurgent military commander Igor Girkin said that eight of ten recording devices on the plane were in their possession. While it was not clear which of these recording devices, specifically, it has found, the fate of those devices remains unclear.
The statement is in direct contradiction to what Aleksandr Borodai, a representative of the pro-Russian forces, told the Associated Press: “No black boxes have been found … We hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened.”
The NBC report claims that pro-Russian forces are still deciding what to do with the black boxes and whether to let international investigators into the crash site, which is isolated from the rest of Ukraine due to being controlled by rebel gangs. Others say the black boxes may already be in Moscow. Russian radio station Kommersant is reporting that a “black box” traveled to Moscow “for investigation,” while the Telegraph reports Purgin has stated publicly that “when” they find the black boxes, “we most likely will give them [the recorders] to the Interstate Aviation Committee, to Moscow. High-level experts, who will be able to determine exactly the reason of the catastrophe, work there.”
As the Telegraph notes, control over the black boxes is pivotal, as it allows the possessor to control the information from the recording that is leaked to the media. Having the black box fall into the wrong hands could lead to turning the assault on the plane into an unsolved mystery. Should Russia have exclusive possession of the black boxes, the government has an incentive to hide any information detrimental to them or pro-Russian forces.
The Russian separatists have, at least, allowed international investigators from the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe to visit the crash site, according to the BBC. Thirty monitors are said to have arrived on the scene, with Russian separatist groups offering “safe access” to the site to recover human remains and evidence.
The political volatility of the area has created some significant concerns regarding the recovery of evidence. It was also no surprise. Reports note that international air safety organizations had designated the area unsafe for commercial aircraft. Russian news source had also reported that Ukraine had closed the airspace over Donetsk precisely because of the increasingly dangerous military situation on the ground.